An e-conversation with Dump and Yo La Tengo’s James McNew

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I interviewed Yo La Tengo’s James McNew last week for my Feedback column, in advance of his gig here—his solo project is called Dump—next Saturday at the Tea Bazaar. People are psyched. Since it was an e-interview, it’s already typed up, so, hey, why not post? Below is the complete transcript.

Catch Dump at the Tea Bazaar on Saturday, August 13 with Sloppy Heads and Girl Choir.

It’s been about eight years since the last Dump record, A Grown-Ass Man. Why the delay? Is any work forthcoming?
I have been working on it, albeit extremely slowly. There is at least an album’s worth of new songs that have accumulated since [2003’s] A Grown-Ass Man, I hope to finish it someday. I even have a title picked out. A few Dump items have managed to see the light of day in the last few years, such as a split 7" & remix for Jennifer O’Connor, a Why? re-make remix, and a few songs for The Best Show On WFMU’s marathon premiums.

Will you be playing new songs?
I don’t think so. Going to concentrate on hits.

People are saying that this is the first Dump show outside of the New York area. True or false?
False. Dump gigs have happened in many far-flung locations. But Dump gigs rarely occur at all: in Dump’s 19 years of hermetic existence, there have only been about 20 shows.

What is the occasion for the Charlottesville show? What is your connection to town these days—do your folks live in Charlottesville?
They asked! Plus, who could say no to a dream bill with The Sloppy Heads and Girl Choir? I might have driven down just to see those two bands play together, after eating at the Riverside. My mom still lives in town, as do a few good friends.

Can you tell me about the Dump recording setup? Is it still strictly true that you record on a 4-track? Even today?
No, the 4-track died ages ago. I bought it at C-ville Music in 1986, and made every Dump record on it until 2001. A Grown-Ass Man and That Skinny Motherfucker With The High Voice? were both recorded on instantly-obsolete digital formats; since then, I’ve joined the world of ProTools just like everyone else. But I like it, you can misuse it in very pleasing ways.

You’re a veteran of two of Charlottesville’s most esteemed (kind of) cultural institutions: you were a WTJU DJ and an attendant at the Corner Parking Lot. Do you reflect much on those experiences today?
Both of those things were a huge part of my life, and the transition between high school and the real world circa 1987. I was fortunate enough to meet a bunch of generous, intensely creative people who took me under their wings.

Namely, Maynard Sipe, Chris Farina, Phil Townsend, and John Beers. Between them, they booked shows and brought tons of legendary bands to town, DJ’ed and/or ran the WTJU rock dept., put out fanzines, made films, were in great bands who put out records on real labels (or they’d also put out their own records) and toured the world, and supported the otherwise unsupportable. By themselves, in Charlottesville, in 1987. That was incredibly inspirational to me.

If those guys are not hailed as true cultural attaches of Charlottesville, it’s a shame. Why is there no Iwo Jima-style statue of The Landlords on the downtown mall?

As a longtime Yo La Tengo fan, one of the interesting things about listening to Dump is that it contains the elements—a melodic sensibility you might say—that turned YLT from an interesting band into a great band after you joined in the early ’90s (Fakebook aside). Do you try to keep your Dump work and your YLT work separate?
I guess I do, but not for any stylistic reason, I don’t believe in any creative boundaries for either entity. I just really enjoy making things, and learning how to make things; all Dump songs come from that. I never felt like it came from a singer-songwritery place—I am just as interested in the recording and the textures as I am in the songs.

As a member of Yo La Tengo, you’re among the first round of indie rockers to achieve "elder statesman" status, which you cemented with storytelling tours (including one that I caught in town at the Satellite Ballroom). What advice, if any, do you have for the young Charlottesville resident who is looking to start an illustrious, two-decade career in a celebrated indie rock band?
Well, GOOD career choice, first off. It’s not like we set out to be an illustrious, two-decade old celebrated indie rock band, it just kinda happened that way. Actual advice? Jeez, I don’t know. Trust your gut. Be yourself. Work hard. Don’t read Pitchfork, or any website comments, ever. Eat right.
 

People around here are freaking out about this show. When you lived here 20 years ago, what illustrious former residents did people celebrate the return of?
I was going to say Ralph Sampson, but now that I think of it, I don’t remember him ever returning.

I was a little kid in New Jersey in the late 80s and early 90s. I don’t want to seem too wide-eyed here, but from a distance, there must have been something in the water in Charlottesville then. Stephen Malkmus and David Berman were around, you were here, and right there, you’ve got members of three of the most critically lionized bands of the ’90s, to say nothing of Dave Matthews, all coming from a small city in the South. How do you explain it? Did Charlottesville have anything to do with it?
As far as three of us are concerned (I’ll let you guess which three), WTJU probably had A LOT to do with it. I can’t really speak for Stephen and David B, but I know that at an extremely formative time in my life when music meant absolutely everything to me, the station was a priceless resource. As far as the water, I grew up in Charlottesville; Stephen and David B came here as students. I know nothing about why Dave Matthews came here. I guess I could Wiki it.

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